ProMoM Inc. - Promoting the awareness and acceptance of breastfeeding.

Human and Mammal by Jay Ann


One night, during that first year with my son Charlie, I made a discovery that revealed to me the deep and primal urges in the breastfeeding child, in any child, in any human. This discovery unveiled the tremendous gifts that I was exchanging with my child, the indisputable psychological and somatic benefits of our nursing-work, and the gentle mystery of being both human and mammal.

Breastfeeding Charlie has never been terribly hard, for him or for me. In the beginning days, there was that surprise that someone was actually *eating* from me. My doula brushed aside any concern that my large nipple wouldn't fit into his tiny baby bird mouth. Charlie was determined to practice his nursing--20 and 22 hours a day. It is his work, and he is very good at it.

As it turned out, learning to delatch him became my biggest breastfeeding challenge. Because he would sleep for hours, nipple in mouth, latched on tight as a tick, I suffered from back pain and sleep loss, despite a trusty pillow wedged against my back. Then, an LLL leader told me about using my index and middle finger to "fool" him into thinking the nipple was still there. It's a neat trick, requiring a little practice. With the index finger, you relax the suction and gently ease the nipple out of the relaxed, sleeping mouth. As it's coming out, you put your middle finger under their chin to keep some of the comforting suction and pressure "in place."

This trick may sound silly and too simple, but it worked for Charlie. Occasionally, he would wake just enough to notice the nipple's absence and would root around to slurp it back in. With practice, I learned to nurse him down, delatch him and then sneak away to shower, write, eat. He never let me get too far away in the early days, but at six months, he would sleep for two or three hours without requiring my nipple in his mouth.

One night, though, I didn't rush away from him. I suppose I was a little tired and enjoyed the quiet, dark bedroom, the soft bed, the sleeping baby. I delatched him and lazily held my index finger on my nipple for a moment or two. Waiting for his deep sleep before I moved away, I suddenly felt it -- The Reason. Too awed to shout "Eureka," I had indeed found the answer to a profound mystery.

I could feel my heartbeat through the end of my nipple. Let me repeat that. My heartbeat. Through the end of my nipple. (If you are a woman, take a moment to see what I mean.)

The recollections of my pregnancy came flooding back. I remembered the first glimpse of the four-chambered, pulsating speck on the ultrasound, and later, the little umbilicus pumping blood so wonderfully. I recalled hearing his heartbeat overtake mine through the Doptone at the midwife's -- our two hearts synchronizing, my body beautifully, efficiently sustaining him.

That night, as I lay on the bed listening to him sleep, holding on to my nipple still, I thought that our heart connection continues on the outside as well. He is separate from me only because someone cut that cord. When he emerged from my body, he was immediately placed close to my heart. It seems completely natural that he wants to be latched on all day, that he wants that warm, living, wonderful nipple in his mouth.

As a mammal, that nipple is his direct connection to life-sustaining food. As a human, it is his direct connection to the Source of Life that courses between human hearts and minds, that feeling of joy and peace and love that feeds our will to live.

Lying there in the twilight of the bedroom, I wished for a world full of babies and adults like Charlie, who could be both mammal and human. If only we could all nuzzle up to that pulse of life, and drink our fill before wandering out into the world. I mused, there in the dark, if we all were breastfed as long as we needed, and if we all had that loving, peaceful unifying experience deeply written in our somatic selves, to draw upon in crisis, when we needed reserve strength, when we needed love. Eventually, I got up and decided to write what has become these words. I shall never forget that moment, perhaps my greatest lesson as a nursing mother and a human.

I am profoundly grateful that if I can give Charlie little else, I can give him this most important opportunity--to be both human and mammal and to nurse from his mother's body. He has given me countless opportunities, such as this one, to be a radical, to be an advocate for progressive change. But there really is no easier protest, no finer protection against aggression, war, injustice and disease than simply to offer our children the gentle murmur of our voice, the soothing touch of skin, the life-pulse of the nipple, and the warm and perfect nutrition of our milk.

Jay Ann Cox, Ph.D., is mother to Charlie, now an active nursing toddler of 2.25 years. She works at home as a freelance writer and activist, a workshop leader, and consultant. He is alternately a lion, a cow, and a pig, and works very hard at nursing ("my nanny") and growing. Their home page is Lizard Lodge,


© Jay Ann Cox, Ph.D. 1998.
ProMoM, Inc.

Human and Mammal
by Jay Ann Cox, Ph.D.